The Technology-Driven Revolution

WASHINGTON, DC, 23 February 2011 — I got a query this morning from a person inquiring about my “Backpack Documentary Expedition: Nicaragua,” coming up this summer. She was concerned that her lack of experience with new digital cameras might be a stumbling block on the journey. Here’s part of my response:

“The methodology that we refer to as ‘backpack journalism’ or ‘backpack documentary’ really is a technology-driven phenomenon. The technology has become so (comparatively) simple that even beginners pick it up fairly quickly. My specialty is teaching the visual storytelling process with this technology. This is something that even the most tech-savvy kids of today too often don’t fully understand, as evidenced by the lack of visual literacy that we see on television and especially on the Internet.”

And this is a point that I cannot emphasize enough. The current revolution in visual media is driven by technology that now is available to the masses. Digital cameras and the Internet now make it possible for us to communicate instantly, globally and in a language that we all understand: The visual language. But the fact that we have access to high-tech gear does not mean that we can effectively speak that visual language. Take a look at television and the web to see what I mean. Generating still pictures and video with high-tech machines is one thing. Telling powerful visual stories with that technology is another.

(Photo by Bill Gentile. Helmand River Valley, Afghanistan, 2008.)